Impressionism – Alfred Sisley, Landscapes

Alfed Sisley, The Bridge at Villeneuve-la-Garenne, 1872
Alfred Sisley, The Bridge at Villeneuve-la-Garenne, 1872

Alfred Sisley’s English heritage and Parisian upbringing served him well in developing as an Impressionist landscape artist. Early in his career, he spent four years in London studying J.M.W. Turner and John Constable.  However he returned to London in 1861, where, like Pissarro, Camille Corot’s Realist landscape paintings strongly influenced his style. (He first exhibited at the Paris Salon in 1867 as Corot’s pupil.)

Through Corot’s  influence he retained a passionate interest in the sky, which nearly always dominated his paintings, and also in the effects of snow, which he combined to create strongly dramatic effects. His  early style was also deeply influenced by Courbet and Daubigny.

From 1862, he studied at the Paris École des Beaux-Arts (at the studio of Charles Gleyr) with fellow students Frédéric Bazille, Claude Monet, and Pierre-Auguste Renoir. These artists often gathered at Café Guerbois on the Grande rue des Batignolles, where they met Édouard Manet, Edgar Degas, Camille Pissarro, Paul Cézanne, and others who were part of, or sympathetic to, the Impressionist movement.

Sisley concentrated on painting landscapes more consistently than any other Impressionist painter.  He celebrated the intimate qualities of the places he lived in, exploring the effects of changing light and weather and mapping scenes from a variety of viewpoints in different seasons. Unlike other Impressionists such as Monet, Renoir and Pissarro who developed their styles over time, Sisley stayed true to his love of painting landscapes in the Impressionist style.

He spent some time painting in Fontainebleau southeast of Paris, at Chailly with Monet, Bazille and Renoir, and later at Marlotte with Renoir. He moved his family to Moret-sur-Loing, near Fontainebleau,  in 1880 and remained close to the area for the rest of his life. (He died from throat cancer at the age of 59 in 1899.)  Fontainebleau was a source of inspiration that he would revisit many time on canvas, or occasionally with a camera, as he also seems to have worked from photographs at times.

Sisley had also fled to London during the Franco-Prussian War and the Paris Commune in the early 1870s. There Pissarro introduced him to art dealer Duand-Ruel, and he became part of the dealer’s stable. Unfortunately, the war caused him a severe reversal of fortune: most of his paintings were either lost or destroyed, and his father, who had been supporting Sisley, lost his fortune. Reduced to extreme poverty, Sisley had to support himself and his family through modest sales of his work.

In the images below you will see how successfully Sisley captured the world around him, producing very atmospheric and restful landscapes. You’ll also see the influence of his fellow Impressionist artists.

This is an excerpt from my online modern art appreciation program

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